London Letter — Don’t Be Afraid

The risk which terrorism poses to the British is in fact so minimal that it is almost insignificant. There are far greater national issues to be concerned about — By Kannen Ramsamy

This year, the UK has made it very clear that fighting terrorism is at the forefront of the national agenda. After the Parsons Green attack in September, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that the terrorist threat level of the UK had been raised from “severe” to “critical”. The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) describes “critical” as being the highest level of threat, whereby any state in such a position should be preparing for an imminent attack. Later in October, the normally elusive chief of MI5, Andrew Parker, warned of an intense wave of terrorism that the UK ought to brace itself for. Meanwhile tabloid papers have been churning out fear-inducing headlines about this year’s terrorist attacks. Back in March, the Daily Mirror described the Westminster attack as an “Attack on Democracy” whilst the Metro headline read “Terror at the Heart of Power”. But how exactly do these drastic responses, both from the media and key public figures alike, measure against the reality of the situation?

A recent study carried out by Alex Nowraseth at the CATO Institute suggests that the reaction is in fact largely disproportionate to the threat at hand. Using various data on terrorist attacks in the UK and the national population between 2001 and 2017, Nowraseth concluded that the average individual in the UK has a 1 in 8,796,562 chance of dying in a terrorist attack. This figure has seen a decrease from the 1975-2000 period, which saw a 1 in 590,389 chance. If we take into consideration all the terrorist attacks and relative population data between 1975 and 2017, then there is a 1 in 964,531 chance. What all these three figures ultimately indicate is that it is very, very unlikely for a British citizen to be killed in a terrorist attack. To put it further into perspective, you are more likely to be struck by lightning, at odds of 1 to 300,000, or to choke on your own food, than you are to be fatally attacked by a terrorist.

These revealing statistics are not a means to say that terrorism should be ignored and swept under the rug. It is of utmost importance that there is a collective strive to stub out terrorism and that security services keep it on top of their issues, as they are without a doubt a key reason as to why Britain remains so safe from attacks. However, what it does mean is that the British need to stop being so afraid of terrorism. Far and wide across the nation you can hear people tell of how ‘dangerous things are now’ and how ‘you never know what can happen’ with all the terrorism surrounding us. Yet things are much safer now than they ever were 20 years ago.

This fear that has been instilled in present-day Brits through scandalous newspaper headlines and dramatic public speeches poses far more of a threat to the UK than terrorism currently does. Fear breeds irrationality, and irrationality breeds chaos. The nation becomes divided and far less tolerant of its fellow citizens. Moreover, a fear-induced population is perfect fodder for manipulation by political leaders, particularly those who seek to push their own destructive authoritarian agendas.

One need only to glance at the dire situation in the US to see this in action. In what world does a man who calls for a travel ban on a religion of over 1.2 billion people, refers to Mexicans as rapists and openly advocates brutal torture, become the president of the United States of America? In one that is over-ridden by fear. A report from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows that just under half of Americans are worried that they or their family will be a victim of terrorism, despite the odds of dying in a terrorist attack being even lower than that of UK, at a 1 in 3,241,363 chance. When this sort of worry takes hold, the natural human reaction is to seek protection. Our survival instinct activates and we are ready to forego our freedoms and morals in order to be safe from harm. It is here that the authoritarian strongman swoops in – the omnipotent leader who is more than willing to try and strip away the nation’s freedom and liberal values, all in the name of security.

Admittedly, the UK may not be in quite as much trouble as the US in this respect. Its political leadership is by no means a parallel of the Trump administration. But they are certainly teetering at the edge of this toxic territory. Last year Theresa May enforced the Investigatory Powers Act, otherwise known as the ‘Snoopers Charter’. This gave government a new and frightening power; the ability to obtain the internet browsing history of every single person in the country. An Orwellian-style invasion of privacy on this level would have created uproar at any other time in British history. But once May declared that this incredulously disproportionate access of information was for the security of Britain, passivity was adopted, as though it is perfectly normal for the Department of Work & Pensions to have control of everyone’s internet-based information. Nor was an eyelid batted when earlier this year May stated, in regards to extending the amount of time police could detain suspects without charge, that “if human rights get in the way… (government) will change those laws”.

With the actual threat of terrorism at such a tremendously low rate, is it justifiable to access all our personal information and detain innocent-till-proven-guilty suspects for extended periods of time, under the guise of national protection? I think not.

As difficult it may be, what with the daily bombardment of media scare-stories and worrisome public statements, it is important to maintain clarity on the actual reality of the situation. That reality is that the risk which terrorism poses to the British is in fact so minimal that it is almost insignificant. There are far greater national issues to be concerned about as 2018 approaches, for example the NHS being drained of its resources, persistent growth in wealth inequality and ever increasing homelessness across the UK.


*  Published in print edition on 29 December 2017

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